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Maxwell Elementary's Morlan recognized in national education magazine for songs

What started as a way to refresh her own memory has grown into a project bringing learning success in the classroom and nationwide attention.

For years, kindergarten teacher Becky Morlan has used self-created songs to help her students learn their lessons. But during review time, Mrs. Morlan couldn't remember which song she had used to teach which lesson. So, she decided to record the songs on CD.

In October, Mrs. Morlan's CD creation was featured in the Education World online magazine. Since then, she has received email requests from teachers in other states who are interested in obtaining copies of the CD.

Entitled Busy Bee Tunes, the CD features mini-clips of songs to teach kindergarten sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words that must be recognized instantly when read to increase the fluency necessary for comprehension. Examples of sight words are the, a, is, of, to, too, and, you, there, they and that.

"There are so many words that they have to learn before moving onto first grade, so that was the goal to help them retain those words," Mrs. Morlan said.

In the online article, Mrs. Morlan said the goal during kindergarten is 100 words, and the success of her musical CD was obvious after it's first year.

"I saw a great improvement in the number of sight words my students were able to retain. The average number at the end of the year was 150," Mrs. Morlan said in the article.

The CD is filled with both familiar and original tunes with a catchy beat that spell out each word repeatedly and use them in a sentence. Mrs. Morlan's husband, Jesse, who is the band director at Thomson High School, helped her in the project.

"He is a great musician, as well as he has a nice singing voice," Mrs. Morlan said. "I, on the other hand, have a very scary singing voice... We actually had a lot of fun making up silly songs together."

The fun is the key to the success, because the CD's retention power doesn't come just from the students listening to it. Using her talents as the coach of the middle school majorettes and the choreographer for the high school musicals, Mrs. Morlan created dance moves to go with each song. Every morning in class, the kindergartners have "sight word boogie time."

"It's a time for them to get their wiggles out and learn at the same time," Mrs. Morlan said.

The music is so popular with the students that they created other ways to use it in class.

"It's so funny this year, because when we have center time, the children beg for me to put on the CD, because they want to go to the wipe off boards and write the words as the song is playing," Mrs. Morlan said. "So that's something that I didn't expect, or experience last year. It's something that they came up with on their own."

The fun and learning continue outside the classroom as Mrs. Morlan was able to create enough CDs for each student to take home and enjoy with their parents.

Using funds from a federally-funded grant program that is filtered through the local school system, Mrs. Morlan purchased a laser CD burner and a label maker that made the CDs look professional.

This is not the first year Mrs. Morlan has been the recipient of the Teacher Incentive grant funds. In 2004, she created discovery packs, which are canvas bags filled with activities, and in 2005, she created hot dots, an electronic phonics program.

Each year, several McDuffie County teachers are awarded the grant money, which all teachers are eligible for by application. Teachers submit applications in the fall, and all their projects must align with Quality Core Curriculum objects. The projects must include all students in the class, and proposals are judged by a source outside the county.

Web posted on Thursday, November 29, 2007

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